Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Babka
A light and tender brioche dough with swirls of savory roasted red pepper pesto. Whether you use my pesto recipe, or get creative with your own filling, this no-fail babka will not disappoint!
What is babka anyway??
Babka originates from Jewish heritage when families would use extra traditional challah dough, spread it with a jam or cinnamon, and roll it up to bake. It then spread to European bakeries, and with time and some New York foodies providing praise, it is now a hit in the Unites States. Now you’ll find this light, addictive bread in forms of savory and sweet. From decadent swirls of nutella to irresistable swirls of pesto.
I participated in an online international food challenge to help stretch my thinking a little bit. The only requirement was to use either tomatoes or red peppers. I stirred over what I would bake…but then it hit me when I was walking through our farmers market one Saturday. I saw heaping piles of perfectly placed red bell peppers, and then I spotted a tent down the way selling incredible ciabattas and other breads. Can you hear the bells like I did?? It clicked. Turn the bell peppers into a pesto and swirl it into bread!
This bread requires a little bit of time, but don’t be intimidated by it! Most of the time is just the bread sitting around getting fluffy and delicious. You can also spread out the steps over a couple days if that seems more manageable for you. For example, you can make the pesto the days before, and the dough can have its first rise in the fridge over night.
For more play by play images and steps, head over to my instagram highlights to see the babka in action. Here’s the recap:
1. Make the dough
2. Rise (and make pesto while you wait)
3. Chill the dough
4. Divide into 2 & roll out
5. Fill and form the babka
8. Bake and enjoy every layer!
How to work with yeast
There are several different kinds of yeasts out there. None are necessarily bad, but they all respond differently so it’s important to know what you’re working with. There are 3 primary kinds of yeasts – active dry, instant, and rapid rise. For this recipe my favorites are either active dry or instant. Active dry needs to be activated prior to using by letting it sit in warm water with sugar (or honey) for 10 minutes until foamy. Instant has already been partially activated and you can let it get foamy first, or just add it to your recipe with a warm liquid and it’ll still continue activating like normal. For more information on this see my tips page on working with yeast.
Whatever yeast you use, two general key principles:
1. It’s best stored in the refrigerator or freezer for longest shelf life. I’ve heard a lot of people say “6 months” for the freezer once it’s been opened, but I’ve used my yeast past that point and it’s still worked great. One If you see your yeast isn’t activating, you could have killed it by using too hot of a liquid, or it could have gone bad if you’ve had it for a while.
2. You can kill your yeast by having your liquid component to hot! On the flip side, it won’t activate well if you put it in water. So what does yeast love? A nice warm bath. It’s true. If you need a specific number, I always recommend 110 degrees F. I recommend taking the temperature especially if you’re new to bread making because it can be the make or break of having successful results.
Important note: This recipe makes TWO loaves. You can half the recipe, but if you’re going through all the steps anyway, you might as well make both! You can freeze the dough and assemble the second one later, or you can do what I love to do – make on savory and one sweet. The pesto recipe below is only enough for ONE loaf (because of the reason I just mentioned). So if you’re wanting both pesto, plan to double the pesto batch. If you’d like to turn one loaf into my chocolate babka, click here for the recipe. You’ll be in heaven, I promise!
Roasted Red Pepper Babka
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter
- ~4 cups bread flour
Pesto (for ONE loaf - double recipe if filling both loaves)
- 2 large red bell peppers, sliced (300 grams)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- ~12 fresh basil leaves (~1/4 cup)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ½ tbsp white vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper
Egg wash + topping
- 1 large egg
- 1 TB milk
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly shredded
- For the dough: Add warm milk, yeast, and sugar to a stand mixer with a dough hook. A large bowl will also work if making by hand.
- Add 2 cups of flour, eggs, and salt. Let mix well. Then while mixer is running, slowly add the softened butter. Slowly add remaining 2 ½ cups of flour. Depending on your moisture level, it may be slightly more or less flour. Dough should be soft and smooth, but not too sticky.
- Let mixer knead the dough for 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, put in oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 1 ½ hours or put in the fridge to rest overnight.
- After the dough has risen, place it in the freezer for a half hour. It will make it easier to work with in assembly.
- For the filling: Slice red peppers and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Roast in oven on 375° F for 20-25 minutes until edges start to blacken slightly. Then toast pine nuts in the oven for about 10 minutes until slightly roasted and fragrant.
- Add all pesto ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Store in fridge until ready to use.
- Assembly: Line two 9x5 inch loaf pans with parchment paper, allowing excess to hang over the edge. After dough has risen and chilled, punch down the dough and divide into 2 even sections. Start with one section and roll out on floured surface into a rectangle about 10x12 inches. Fill with the pesto filling, leaving about a half inch on all sides. Using the short end, roll up tightly into a log (think cinnamon roll), but being careful not to squeeze any of the filling out. Gently pinch along the seam to seal. (You can also brush the sealed end with water to help it seal well) Repeat this process with the second ball of dough.
- Start with one log and use a sharp knife to cut lengthwise down the entire center. Carefully twist the two ends together. You can do this easily by making an x with the two pieces and then twisting the top, then the bottom. Place in your loaf pans, cover, and let rise until the loaf is just arching over the top of the pan, usually about 1 - 1 ½ hours.
- Bake: While babka is rising, preheat oven to 350. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle fresh parmesan cheese on top just before placing the loaves in the oven. Bake for about 35-40 minutes. If your oven browns the tops quickly, you can put a piece of foil on the top about 20 minutes in. It's done when the bottoms are a dark golden brown and layers look fully cooked.
- Let is cool for about 15 minutes in the loaf pan, then place on cooling rack to finish cooling. It's amazing a little warm! Bread is best kept at room temperature up to 4 days. You can also freeze it! Enjoy!